By Thomas Edwards ’20
In the summer of 1985 in Birmingham, Alabama, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested, tried, and convicted of the murders of two restaurant workers earlier that year; two crimes he was innocent of. Despite providing a solid alibi, Anthony Ray Hinton was still sentenced to death by the state of Alabama.
After 28 years of living in a cell that was five by seven feet, Hinton was finally released. While his case made its way through the appeals courts, Hinton was finally granted a retrial by the Supreme Court and was fully acquitted on April 1, 2015. The Jefferson County district attorney’s office moved to drop the case after their forensics experts were unable to match crime scene bullets to Hinton’s mother’s gun, the supposed murder weapon.
This past Friday, Hinton spent the day at Providence College sharing his story with our community. The day began at 9:30 a.m. in Dr. Patrick Breen’s History 100 class, in which students had read Hinton’s book The Sun Does Shine prior to his arrival. During the class, students began by welcoming Hinton and then asking questions about his time on death row.
When asked about the process of going back to write his story down Hinton said, “After spending 30 years, it makes you relive the hell you went through. The hardest thing, believe it or not, I had to do. I would go maybe 30 minutes and then break down and cry like a baby.” Hinton continued later saying, “I’m free but I’m not free. Every time I wrote something it’d trigger something and send me back.”
At around 3 p.m., hundreds of students and faculty made their way into ’64 Hall to hear Hinton speak and retell his story. Acting President Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., began the forum by welcoming all that were present and welcoming Hinton to PC. Dr. Breen followed this by giving a quick summary of who Hinton was and then proceeded to show a clip from the ABC News coverage of Hinton’s story and release. As Hinton got up the audience rose to their feet and greeted him with a standing ovation.
Hinton began by recounting the day he was arrested. It was a hot day in Alabama and Hinton’s mother had asked him to go out and mow the lawn. After some resistance on Hinton’s part, he reluctantly went out to mow the lawn. “I was in the middle of cutting the grass when I looked up to see two white men standing at the foot of the lawn. They identified themselves as detectives and that they were here to arrest me.” When Hinton asked the detectives why they were arresting him, they did not give a reason, but rather put him in handcuffs and brought him to the police station.
He recalled how he had to ask the detectives time and time again why they were arresting him before they finally answered. They told him he was being arrested for first degree murder, first degree robbery, and first degree kidnapping. When Hinton claimed his innocence of these crimes, one of the detectives plainly said, “I don’t care whether you did it or not.”
Even after confirming his alibi, Hinton was brought to trial, found guilty, and was sentenced to death. He said he remembered the amount of hate he had for the men that did this to him, that all he thought about was how he wanted to kill them for what they had done. However, after the first few years being fueled by hate, Hinton found that he could not do one of his most favorite things anymore; he was unable to laugh. When this occurred, he recalled how he stared in the mirror and did not like what he saw, and that he needed to rediscover his humanity.
The audience was left with a message from Hinton about not only the hardships he went through, but how he managed to work through them and still keep laughing. “Humanity,” said Hinton, “all of us have humanity inside us. It takes humanity to make someone feel good when they are having a bad day. Show humanity, simple things such as saying ‘good morning, hello, how are you,’ will show and spread humanity.”
Before Hinton received another standing ovation for his talk, he closed by saying, “If you drown, it doesn’t matter the color the hand that’s trying to save you. Humanity is something we all need desperately from each other once in a while.”